Blend It, Pack It, Wrap It – Lunch Is in the Bag
Healthy Lunch Tips, plus recipes for Turkey-Bacon Wrap, Broccoli-Cheese Mashed Potato Bowl, Lunchbox Oatmeal Squares and a Simple Smoothie
A 20-minute lunch is the norm for most kids in school.
But once you include the time it takes to line up, grab a cafeteria tray and catch up with a friend, the time a kid has to actually eat can easily diminish to 10 or 15 minutes.
For some kids, this is enough time to quickly eat a sandwich, chips, fruit and chug a chocolate milk. But for slow pokes, talkers and picky eaters, it’s not nearly enough.
And while many schools work to create space and time for kids to eat their meals in a healthy way without a time crunch, it’s a fact that kids have to be ushered in and out of the cafeteria within the span of a couple of hours to get everyone in school fed in a decent amount of time.
So no matter if your child has 10 minutes or 30 minutes to eat, it’s a good idea to remind them this is their time to pack in nutrition, to nourish and energize their bodies so they’re prepared for the rest of the day.
If you’re packing your child’s lunch, we have some recipes and ideas to help you maximize healthy eating in a rush. We also have tips for kids eating in the cafeteria, so check those out and talk about them with your kiddos before they head back to school this year.
Eating Better in the Cafeteria
- Look over the weekly or monthly cafeteria menu together. Point out some of the healthier options and browse the “fun” foods, too. Talk about how the cinnamon roll would be a delicious treat to have after eating the vegetable soup. Checking out the menu in advance can give kids an idea of what to expect.
- Remember fruits and vegetables. Remind kids to include apple slices, carrot sticks or any of their favorites alongside their corndog or pizza.
- Talk about brain foods. Explain to your kids that eating a balanced meal from the cafeteria can actually help them do better in school. Eating a meal with fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy and grains will give them brain power to fly through the day.
- Eat healthy foods first. Lunch monitors might remind the kids, but it’s also good to hear it from moms and dads. Eat your healthy foods, like the spaghetti and green beans or turkey sandwich and yogurt, before eating your chocolate cake.
Packing a Lunchbox with a Nutritional Punch
- Make a list. Write down the healthy foods you’ve noticed your kids will eat. Hummus and pita, yogurt parfait, black beans and rice. Let them help you add to your list. When you’re banging your head against the wall trying to think of foods your kids actually like, go back to that list to jog your memory.
- Blend it. Smoothies are a great way to sneak nutrition into a lunch box. A smoothie of spinach, chia seeds, strawberries and banana tastes sweet, and it’s something kids can drink quickly when it’s almost time for the recess bell.
- Load it into a bar. Make your own granola bars or oatmeal squares loaded with whole grains, nuts and fruits. Cut into squares, and pack into the lunchbox for a week’s worth of healthy treats.
- Don’t forget your thermos. A thermos isn’t just good for soup. Use it for mashed potatoes, fried rice, pasta and other foods that can be eaten quickly.
Take some of the components of a club sandwich, and use them in a wrap.
- 2 (10-inch) wraps or tortillas
- 2 tablespoons honey mustard
- 4 slices honey-roasted turkey breast
- 2 slices cooked bacon
- 4 slices avocado
- 2 slices cheddar cheese
- 2 large romaine lettuce leaves
- Place wraps side by side. Evenly distribute each ingredient, leaving one quarter of the wrap empty to make it easier to roll. Roll each wrap toward the bare portion. Cut each wrap in half.
Don’t like broccoli? No problem! Top the mashed potatoes with your kid’s favorite vegetables, turkey bacon or cheese.
Broccoli-Cheese Mashed Potato Bowl
- 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
- 1 cup broccoli florets, steamed to tender
- 1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Evenly divide mashed potatoes between two thermoses. Top with hot, steamed broccoli and shredded cheese. Tightly seal lid.
Kids love these nutritious bars that are much more filling than your basic kids’ granola bar.
Lunchbox Oatmeal Squares
Makes 16 bars
- 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/4 cup flour
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup almond milk
- ¼ cup applesauce
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup walnuts, finely chopped
- ¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper hanging over the edge.
- In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
- In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, applesauce and vanilla extract. Transfer the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients, and set aside until flavors blend, about 20 minutes.
- Fold in the walnuts and cranberries, and spread combined mixture into prepared square pan.
- Bake in the preheated oven until edges are golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool on wire rack for 5 minutes before slicing.
Smoothies can be made countless ways – with yogurt, milk, fruit juice and fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Here’s a basic recipe that works well in a lunchbox. Make it in the morning, and place in a very cold container to keep it chilled until lunchtime. This one works well even in a toddler’s lunchbox.
- 1 cup milk
- 1 small frozen banana
- 1/2 cup frozen fruit (blueberries, strawberries, mango, peaches)
- 1/2 cup veggies (such as kale, spinach, roasted sweet potato or raw squash)
- Add-ins: 1 teaspoon chia seeds, 2 teaspoons honey
- Add all ingredients to blender, and blend until smooth. Scrape down sides, and add more liquid if needed.
Natalie Mikles is a mom of three. She writes about food, sharing recipes for busy families and picky eaters. She has been recognized for her food columns as well as features on families and issues affecting local children. She loves pizza and movie nights with her family.